The state of Texas asked a federal judge Wednesday to rule against a program shielding 700,000 young immigrants from deportation, arguing they drain state resources and never should have received federal protection.
Supporters of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, argued that the state's claims were baseless during a hearing in a lawsuit that's being closely watched by immigrants and advocates on both sides.
U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen did not immediately issue a ruling Wednesday. But he asked pointed questions of both sides about how this case compared to his ruling three years ago against another expansion of immigrant protections by former President Barack Obama.
In that case, Hanen ruled against an expansion of DACA and new protections for immigrant parents. A federal appeals court sided with Hanen and the U.S. Supreme Court split 4-4, leaving his ruling in place. The expanded protections never went into effect.
Texas is now asking for Hanen to stop the U.S. government from enforcing Obama's 2012 memorandum creating DACA. Three other federal judges have stopped President Donald Trump's administration from ending DACA.
If Hanen rules in Texas' favor, legal experts say that conflict would draw the attention of higher courts and potentially the U.S. Supreme Court.
DACA has authorized around 700,000 people brought to the U.S. illegally as children to obtain work permits and driver's licenses. Texas joined several other states in filing a lawsuit to halt the program in May, arguing that DACA recipients drain millions of dollars in education, health care and law enforcement funding, and that they take jobs from American citizens.
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On Wednesday, state attorney Todd Disher said the new case raised legal questions that Hanen had already addressed in his previous ruling.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said in a statement that the lawsuit was "vital to restoring the rule of law to our immigration system."
The Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund told the judge that claims about DACA recipients draining state resources are "both irrelevant and grossly inflated." Nina Perales, an attorney for MALDEF, argued that Hanen's previous ruling was not "a magic wand" that resolved this case.
Perales also questioned why Texas had waited six years to claim the program was causing "irreparable" damage.
The states technically sued the U.S. government because the government runs the program. But with the Trump administration wanting to end DACA, states that support the program intervened, along with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, to argue that the program should remain in place.
"Let's not lose sight of the fact that DACA recipients are our neighbors," said New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal after the hearing. "They pray with us. They go to school with us. They work with us."
A group of people protected by DACA attended the hearing and protested outside the courthouse afterward. Hanen acknowledged the attention the case has received and its importance to DACA recipients involved in the case, who he said "were just trying to live the best life they possibly can."
"No one in this case is a bad guy," he said.
Hanen instructed attorneys on both sides of the issue to submit new filings by Monday.